Orphan woman, 90, prepares to meet her ‘lost’ family

May Webber on her 90th birthday in April this yearImage copyright

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May Webber celebrated her 90th birthday in April this year

Orphaned at seven and packed off to live with a “cruel” aunt, May Webber had a more difficult start in life than most.

Only wartime evacuation spared her further misery.

But her traumatic, fragmented childhood caused her to lose contact with her three older sisters and brother.

Now, more than 80 years on, Mrs Webber is preparing to meet her “lost” family at a get-together at her Port Talbot home.

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May Webber lost contact with her three sisters and brother when she was aged seven

Intrigued by Mrs Webber’s stories of her challenging childhood, a relative with an interest in genealogy, Angela Doyle, set about trying to track down the family she had lost.

Mrs Doyle spent seven years trawling through public records and ancestry websites in her search for Mrs Webber’s siblings.

Alice, Mary, Nellie and Edward had, like Mrs Webber, been born with the surname Mitchell in Peckham, south east London.

All four siblings were older than Mrs Webber and had left home when their parents died – their mother from a brain tumour and their father, just three months later, from the tuberculosis he developed after being gassed during World War One while fighting in the trenches.

Mrs Webber said was legally adopted by an uncle, whose wife relentlessly “tormented and bullied” her.

When she was 12, World War Two broke out and she was evacuated to a family in Ascot, Surrey, where she remained for several years after the war.

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Five-year-old May Mitchell, as she was called then, with her father, Edward (back row, centre), Uncle Sid (back row, right), who was to adopt her two years later, and two of her cousins

She later met her first husband, David Williams, while working as a nanny in Pwllheli, Gwynedd, and the couple settled in Port Talbot, where they raised a family.

Widowed in 1984, she remarried in 1987 to Geoff Webber, who died from asbestosis 10 years later.

Mrs Doyle’s detective work located several descendants of Mrs Webber’s siblings in the south of England, although sadly her siblings themselves had died.

Alice, 102, and Nellie, 100, died within six weeks of each other just two years ago, during Mrs Doyle’s search for them.

“If only the breakthrough had happened sooner,” said Mrs Doyle.

Her sister Mary and brother Edward had died in the 1970s.

Mrs Doyle said that although her search for Mrs Webber’s family began in 2010, she had to wait until two weeks ago for a breakthrough.

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Mrs Webber, aged 20, and her first husband, David Williams, on honeymoon in London in 1947

“Because May had been adopted and because she remembered so little of her parents and sisters, I was not making much progress,” Mrs Doyle explained.

She left a message on an ancestry website “in desperation” asking for anyone looking for Mrs Webber to get in touch.

“As luck would have it, her sisters’ family were also searching and found my message, so they got in touch two weeks ago,” she said.

“The only sadness of it was that we were too late to reunite May with her brother and sisters.”

She will be reunited with Alice’s daughters, Elaine Lewis, 76, and Margaret Wellington, 73, Mrs Lewis’ daughter, Kay Lewis, 48, all from Portsmouth, Hampshire, and Mary’s daughter, Ann May, from Sidcup, Kent.

Preparing to welcome the family she did not know she had, Mrs Webber said: “We will have so much to talk about. There’s so much I want to know about my sisters and brother and I hope they will be able to fill in the 83 blank years.

“But I do have feelings of sadness too. I had a very unhappy childhood and my way of dealing with it ever since has been to put it out of my mind as best I could and to put all my energies into creating a loving, happy home for my three sons.

“So for 80-odd years, I’ve done my best not to live in the past and now that past is right here.

“I have had mixed feelings about the get-together, if I’m honest, but my family has convinced me this is the right thing to do and I do of course have so many questions I want to ask them.”

Mrs Webber, who worked at the former JR Freeman cigar factory in Port Talbot for almost 50 years, plans to serve her guests home-made shepherd’s pie and “plenty of tea”, she said.

Orphan woman, 90, prepares to meet her ‘lost’ family

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